By Kelly Bai
Photography courtesy Sonora Resort
Up until Friday at noon, I was still anxiously busy, hurrying to complete the October edition of Boulevard. Then, I packed a simple bag and drove to the airport’s south terminal, where a helicopter awaited.
As the large propeller spun, the helicopter rose into the air. The city looked like a sandbox and drifted farther and farther away. Lush forests and the majestic ocean appeared under my feet. Anxious and hectic feelings receded as the city drifted away beneath me. I relaxed, know- ing that a comfortable and wonderful weekend was about to unfold.
After a 50-minute flight, the helicopter landed at Sonora Resort. This 5-star resort was built on Sonora Island in 1954, with half a century’s worth of history. The island is one of many located in the BC Discovery Islands, its name coming from a Spanish schooner that explored the Pacific Northwest in 1775.
Sonora Resort is like a secret paradise in the midst of the wilderness. Ferries cannot get here, only helicopters, float- planes and water taxis, further underlining its otherworldly, mysterious feel.
Several small West Coast style buildings stood by the water. The guest rooms were comfortable and cozy, and the beautiful view beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows takes only a minute to steal away your heart.
Upon entering, I immediately sank into the sofa facing the window and did not want to move again. Beyond the glass sat the beautiful Bute Inlet. The waters churned rapidly, a continuous stretch of mountains could be seen in the distance, and forest-heavy islands seemed to float in the water. Wild and undeveloped, the area is isolated and gives the feeling of being surrounded by dense nature. The stool in front of the sofa held a pair of binoculars for looking at faraway forests, mountains, seagulls and sea animals.
Just like that, I sat idly until dinnertime when I went to the resort’s Tyee Dining Room. (Tyee is an ancient First Nations word meaning big salmon.) The views outside the big glass window here were even more expansive, and I watched the sunset upon a faraway mountain, a shade of red flooding the sky and illuminating the beauty of this wilderness island.
Inside the Tyee, on the dining table, sat an equally pleasing sight: fresh raw oysters, tender veal, lamb rack, caviar and mullet slices, scallops and mussels, and baked salmon. Every dish was fresh and tasty, especially the salmon. I’m sometimes reluctant to order salmon, which is often rendered tasteless. However, here, the salmon was perfect: fresh and tender, rich and flavourful. Furthermore, a thin layer of beet puree was carefully spread on top. If it weren’t for the server’s recommendation, I would have missed this course entirely.
Waking up late on Saturday morning, I hurriedly finished my breakfast and headed towards the resort’s Island Currents Spa for a massage treatment. This hydrotherapy centre is equipped with indoor dry sauna and steam sauna rooms, along with outdoor hot and cold mineral water pools. The dressing table in the changing room offered top Swiss brand Valmont body lotion, so luxury is evident here. Most of the products used for facial treatments were also Valmont, but on this occasion, I chose a Coastal Beach Stone Massage rather than a facial.
There’s nothing more relaxing than a comfortable full body massage. Hot stones from local beaches were placed on my spine, and the heat gave o a comfortable sensation. The therapist’s gentle and capable hands pushed the soft stones along the body, as tense and aching muscles slowly relaxed. My brain let go and all thoughts concentrated on the effects of finger pressure and stones on muscles. Sleep slowly began to sink in again. After the 90-minute massage, I felt refreshed and relaxed.
In the afternoon, I boarded a boat and joined the Eco Adventure Tour to view marine wildlife. The Discovery Islands are home to many of the Pacific’s wildlife. We boarded the 12-passenger, 28-foot Eagle Master inflatable zodiac (which goes up to 40 nautical miles per hour) and zipped among the islands on the wide-open waters. Bald eagles and herons soared overhead, while hundreds of water birds took o as our boat zoomed by, blocking the sun. The isolated islands were silent except for the chatter of birds, highlighting the serenity of the setting.
Moving further along, stellar sea lions, Dall’s porpoises and Pacific white-sided dolphins appeared in swarms. At times, they twisted and turned in the water looking for food, as their rounded backs suddenly appeared on the surface of the water. Other times, they lifted their heads to swim, carefree and innocent.
The boat was equipped with headphones, used as the guide introduced us to all sorts of wildlife and the islands. If lucky, one can also see orcas, but unfortunately it wasn’t so for us this time around.
Upon return, we headed to dinner. That night, we ordered the Chef’s Menu: a five course meal with wine pairings. Young chef Lukas Gurt- ner designed these menus based on seasonality and the day’s catch, so they are different every night. The menu included the following: Foie Gras Terrine paired with wild mushrooms, Pumpkin Seed Pesto Tortellini with true and consommé, Pu Pastry with hazelnut and feta cheese, Ravioli made with local smoked white mullet paired with Parma ham, mushrooms and caviar. Finally, for dessert was a Pale Green Basil Sponge Cake paired with cherries and oranges. On top of all these, there were also two small appetizers and petit fours. The cuisine was full of creativity. Not only was the presentation like works of art, the taste was delicious.
Also remarkable were the wine pairings, featuring some of BC’s best vintages. In addition to local offerings, Sonora Resort serves a wide selection of other wines, including the best red wines from California, classics from Bordeaux or old vintages from Tuscany.
Waking up early on Sunday, I boarded a boat before 8 am to see brown bears at Orford River. The vessel motored along the Bute Inlet, crossing through the Arran and Yuculta rapids, and headed towards the Orford River along BC mainland’s southwest coast. After 50 minutes, we landed disembarked and boarded a bus. Under the direction of a Homalco First Nations guide, we crisscrossed the moss-ridden rain- forest, looking for brown bears.
Every autumn, brown bears come to the mouth of the Orford River hunting salmon, making this a great time to see them. Our luck was good and not long after being on the road, our guide discovered traces of the bears. Although we had yet to reach the tower designated for bear viewing, our guide stopped the car and we got off, standing on the side of the river. A brown bear walked along in the river towards us, head down looking for food. As he passed, he looked at us curiously. With only a small slope separating us from the bear, our guide gathered us behind him. However, the bear did not show any interest in us and continued his walk, finding food amongst the rocks. The guides later told us that an encounter so close is quite rare.
In the few hours that followed, we arrived at several bear viewing towers built along the Orford River and saw a total of 16 brown bears. Some of the bears were in the river, catching their favourite food. This was my first time seeing bears swim and they’re quite agile in the water, like professional swimmers. Some came in groups along the river bank, walking along the wooden planks. Some lazily rested in the forest along the river, as if they had already eaten their fill.
The bears in the Orford River wilderness appeared relaxed and carefree, seeming more fun-loving and vibrant. It was the first time in my life I had seen so many bears, especially in such an amazing environment! All of the guests were amazed and relished this rare experience.
A light rain began to fall. The zigzag of the Orford River complemented the dense forests, bringing out the beauty of the wilderness.
After watching bears eat for an entire morning, we began to feel hungry too. Returning to the resort, we tucked into another big meal. Every meal was satisfying, and like everything else at the resort, it was an unforgettable experience.
In the days that followed, I relished the wonderful memories gathered from my weekend trip. The photos and video clips that I have posted on social media also garnered a lot of interest from friends. I believe it won’t be long before we all join together to come back again.